Saturday, March 26, 2011

A sandwich to write home about.

Are you stuck in a sandwich rut?
Sick and tired of your ol' standby, PB&J?
If so, I highly recommend you get your booty to Dave's Fresh Pasta in Somerville ASAP.

Okay, so don't get me wrong. If I had to choose to eat one sandwich for the rest of my life it would probably be a peanut butter & jelly (& banana). But only if it was made with Teddie Super Chunky Peanut Butter.

However, if my beloved nut butter were to be discontinued, I would gladly eat any of the dozens of sandwiches scribbled on Dave's ginormous chalk board of wonder.

While part of me hesitates to reveal one of Boston's best, hidden gastronomic jewels, I feel that it is the right thing to do for hungry bellies around the world.

In order to make your first (or 24th) visit to Dave's as simple as possible, follow these steps:

1. Grab a friend, a significant other, your mother, or just yourself and take the Red Line to Davis Square. Dave's is a mere 3 minute walk from the T stop.

2. Enter Dave's Fresh Pasta. Don't be intimidated by the line; it moves quickly.

3. Use your time in line wisely to make a decision. Trust me-- the options are overwhelming.

4. When it's finally your turn give your order to one of the sandwich masters behind the counter. You can pay right then or you can wait until you have received your coveted sandwich(es).

5. Once you have obtained and paid for said sandwich, sit down. In the winter, grab a window seat in the sun. But in the summer, the outdoor sidewalk seating is all that and a bag of chips.

6. Pick up your sandwich, open your mouth as wide as possible and bite down.

7. The first bite-- complete with the earth-shattering crunch of the warm, rustic bread, ooey-gooey cheese, and the layers of cold cuts, veggies, and spreads-- is what my dreams are made of. I swear I shed a tear of joy every time I take that first bite.

8. Then proceed to shed a tear of sadness when you look down at the white parchment paper where your sandwich once was.

9. Plot your return ASAP.

10. For those of you still on Step 3, cracking under the pressure of having to make a decision, allow me to provide you with a few recommendations:

1. Caprese

  • The quintessential, classic Italian combination of tomato, basil, and mozzarella. However, the generous layer of perfect pesto and drizzle of balsamic vinegar make this a sandwich to write home about. This is my go-to summer sandwich when the tomatoes are practically jumping off of the vines and the basil is wreaking havoc in home gardens everywhere. It was my first sandwich here and the one that made me a Dave's disciple.
2. Sun-Dried Tomato Turkey

  • Layer upon layer of freshly sliced turkey breast with sun-dried tomato pesto, aged asiago, caramelized onions and baby spinach leaves. Certainly not your typical turkey sandwich. Order it and you will understand why this WAS my favorite Dave's creation.
3. Prosciutto & Fig (& Caramelized Onions)

  • I really don't like ordering the same thing twice when I eat out, especially in a place like Dave's where the possibilities are endless. But this gem right here has a piece of my heart and I can't but help but order it nearly every time. Paper thin-sliced prosciutto and oozing mozzarella with sweet, but not cloying, fig jam on a sinfully crusty ciabatta roll (my personal favorite). Oh and my addition of the caramelized onions? No explanation other than the fact that I have an unhealthy obsession with all-things caramelized. I am also a huge fan of the classic, yet timeless, combination of salty & sweet. Let's just say this sandwich is the next chocolate-covered pretzel.
So why is Dave's Slow Food-worthy?

Well, Dave's is a major supporter of fellow local businesses. Take Fiore di Nonno for example.

Fiore di Nonno is best-known for its handmade mozzarella but it also works its magic on those curds-and-whey to produce some mighty fine burrata, stracciatella, and string cheese. And all of it is produced right in Somerville. Fiore di Nonno was even kind enough to give a mozzarella-making demo for Slow Food BU this past November. Fiore di Nonno's amazing mozzarella can be found on Dave's sandwiches and on its shelves.

In addition, Dave's is also a purveyor of Iggy's Bread, another local staple. Its amazingly crunchy yet fluffy, carby goodness is the perfect vehicle for all of the cold cuts, fresh vegetables, and other sandwich goodies that complete Dave's panini. You can even take some rolls, croissants, etc. home to try and re-create your experience at Dave's. Or to make Croissant Bread Pudding. Either way, invite me over.

While I could rave about the sandwiches for days, Dave is actually more well-known for its (wait for it, wait for it...) PASTA. Homemade pasta to boot.

In a world where "spaghetti" is king, Dave's attempts and succeeds to remind Bostonians that pasta comes from something other than a blue box. It is rather ironic that one of the simplest recipes (flour, water, and possibly an egg or two) with such rewarding results can seem so intimidating to make.

Dave's offers a wonderful selection of pasta in any flavor, color, shape, etc. one could ever desire. Aside from your decision about whether to order the Caprese or the Prosciutto&Fig, the choice of which of the dozens of pasta to select will be the most difficult one you make all day.

While you can always select the classic egg pasta, why not get a little crazy and go for the sweet red pepper or the lemon basil? There is angel hair, linguine, fettucine, pappardelle, or even lasagna sheets, all which are cut to order right before your eyes. And to further complicate things, there is also an extensive selection of handmade ravioli. Be still my heart.

In addition, if you are as fascinated by Italian cuisine as I am, Dave's offers an array of classes that will temporarily curb any Italophile's insatiable hunger. Classes include topics such as pasta, risotto, gnocchi, saucing, and wine. By teaching traditional culinary techniques and making Italian food more approachable to its customers, Dave's certainly deserves the Slow Food stamp of approval.

With an abundance of high-quality ingredients and prepared foods, Dave's provides its customers with the tools to be his or her own domestic Italian god/goddess. After perusing the aisles filled with beautiful pastas, cheeses, produce, and other goodies, I am inevitably inspired to go home and get into the kitchen. But only after I digest my sandwich.

So if you are sitting around on a Saturday afternoon about to bite into yet another PB&J, I beg you to put that thing down, hop on the T and run (don't walk) to Dave's Fresh Pasta. Your stomach can thank me later.

By: Julia Sementelli

Thursday, March 3, 2011

The Bee's Knees.

We shut off the lights when we leave a room. We recycle every can, plastic bottle, and cardboard box that crosses our paths. We (hopefully) compost our fruit and vegetable scraps. We remember to bring our reusable bags to the grocery store.

With the world's ever-increasing awareness of the condition of the environment, more and more individuals are taking responsibility for themselves and their daily actions in order to preserve their future and that of the generations to come.

However, how many times a day do you think about...bees? Sure, we all have that cute, little teddy bear filled with golden nectar sitting in our cupboard that, albeit most likely crystallized, you reach for every time we need to sweeten our cup of tea or yogurt. But other than that, bees are probably not at the forefront of our minds.

However, according to "Vanishing of the Bees," bees provide us with a lot more than an unrefined sweetener.

On Sunday, February 27th, Slow Food Boston graciously hosted a screening of the documentary "Vanishing of the Bees" and subsequent panel discussion at Boston University. Given the turnout for the event, apparently a great deal of people are concerned with the well-being of the bees.

The focus of the documentary was the increasing prevalence of a condition known as "Colony Collapse Disorder," a phenomenon in which bees mysteriously disappear from their hives.

FASCINATING. And your point is...?

Well, according to the film's synopsis, "commercial honeybee operations pollinate crops that make up one out of every three bites of food on our tables." In other words, if bees are disappearing, beekeepers cannot stay in business, and thus are unable to raise the lovely little bees that pollinate our plants. Therefore, this problem has both economic and personal consequences.

While there are several theories as to why this bee epidemic is on the rise, there are two major hypotheses that resounded:

1. The increase in the use of pesticides, and in particular systemic pesticides

When we typically think of pesticides, the image of a plane flying over fields of crops, dousing our food with a disparaging amount of pesticides comes to mind. While spray pesticides still flow like water, one of the primary culprits of the bee epidemic is the rise of systemic pesticides. Essentially, the seeds of our favorite fruits and vegetables are manufactured to absorb the pesticide as they grow and thus incorporate it into the plants' tissues. BRILLIANT, RIGHT?! Ehh... not so much.

This is disturbing because no matter how much we wash our beloved apples and romaine lettuce in an attempt to "remove" the pesticides, it is impossible to do so when the pesticide is an actual component of that fruit or vegetable. And although pesticides are helpful for farmers because they poison the pests that eat their crops, the cost is the lives of bees. Without bees, our crops will not be pollinated. Without pollination our crops will not grow. Without crops the United States' infamously endless supply of food will diminish.

2. The ubiquity of "monocultures"

A monoculture refers to a large area of land that is devoted solely to one crop. Want to guess the most prevalent monocultures in the United States? Corn and Soy. Yup, that's right-- the usual suspects. According to the film, nature is not meant to exist as a monoculture. Mother Nature has no uniformity. While the pervasiveness and subsequent implications of corn and soy crops in America is a whole other blog post, it goes without saying that the United States' food production is working against the natural diversity and as a result, the bees are not tolerating it. In order to eat pollen, bees must ferment it. And without a diverse diet, that nature typically provides, the bees cannot ferment the pollen and consequently cannot survive.

The condition of the bee population is directly related to the condition of our environment. Why? Well, since bees are the entities that pollinate our fruits and vegetables and thus determine whether or not we will have those strawberries in June or those apples in September. If something were to happen to those furry little buggers, what would happen to our beloved produce?

What shocked me the most was that both the film and the panel discussion mentioned the dishonest sale of "pure" honey. In fact, the majority of the honey on supermarket shelves is not 100% honey even if the label claims to be. The most common additives used are water and syrup made from beet juice or palm sugar. Sure it reduces the cost of production for the manufacturers but all we receive is another dishonest product that we need to be wary of.

How do you ensure that you are spending your precious dollars on a genuine product? Buy local. According to the panel of beekeepers, the only way to know the contents of your honey is to form a relationship with a beekeeper. If you are unsure of the authenticity of a beekeeper's honey, simply ask "What do you feed your bees?" Their answer will let you know.

The three beekeepers in attendance were Wendy Mainardi of Allandale Farm in Brookline, Laurie and Dean of Golden Rule Honey in Leominster, and Mike Graney of All three offer pure, authentic, and most importantly, local, honey. After taste-testing all of the honey and honey-based products, I don't see why you would trust your honey purchases to anyone else.

So. What can we do to help?

1. Reduce the use of toxic chemicals in our homes.

  • So rather than using that bottle of neon yellow Clorox to mop your floors, try to find a natural cleaning alternative. This website is particularly helpful.

2. Choose organic produce.

  • After all the talk of the ubiquity of pesticide use, this should be pretty self-explanatory. And while organic produce IS more expensive than conventional, wouldn't you rather pay the few extra dollars now rather than pay a much heftier "price" in the future?

3. Go to the Farmers' Market.

  • While this is not the easiest feat to accomplish in the dead of winter in Boston, there are alternatives out there. The Somerville Winter Farmers Market is an amazing initiative in which every Saturday, local farmers to bring their seasonal, delicious, produce, meats, dairy, etc. to those of us who are fed up with the unnaturally shiny Granny Smith apples that you can practically see your reflection in and the wrinkly, lackluster greenhouse tomatoes that we encounter in our neighborhood grocery store in the winter. The Winter Market is an awesome alternative when our beloved summer produce is not available. But when summer does finally come around (it's already spring!) you can bet your bottom dollar that I will be at the Copley or Newton farmers markets wandering around the stands, oogling the breath-taking bounties, utterly intoxicated by the deep, sweet scent of strawberries in June and the aroma of blood-red Heirloom tomatoes and just-picked peaches in August. In other words, there is no (good) excuse not to check out your local Farmer's Market.

These sustainable acts are often done in hopes of helping the environment but with little direct and tangible benefit. However, after learning about the condition of the bee population and how little acts can make a big difference, the decision between the organic and the conventional head of broccoli should be an easy one.

Save the whales bees!

-Julia Sementelli